One more trip to close out the season
Sunday, October 19, 2003
length: 8.0km, 1 day
leader: Tim Ulrick
participants: Peter Farr, Tim Ulrick, Ian ?, Howard ?
Tim, Ian, Howard and I all met at the parking lot on Hwy 400 at Hwy 9 and rearranged ourselves into two vehicles. Tim had brought his canoe trailer, which made the shuttle much easier at the end of the trip. After a quick coffee stop on the way, I said “follow me to the put in – it is hard to find”.Everyone followed me... and I drove right past the hard-to-find put in.
Even after missing it once, it was still hard to find coming from the West. As you drive along Hwy 60 from Dwight, look for Long Lake, which is marked as Park Lake on every map I have ever seen. The parking area is on the right (South) side as you pass over a small creek. There is a large sign just ahead on the right advertising the Portage Store, and down low on the left (North) side there is a yellow portage sign on a tree trunk. By the time you see Park Lake (Long Lake), it is almost too late, so go slow. The spot just a small dirt road leading down through the trees to the lake with a small flat area to park your car beside the road. If you see the park boundary marker you have gone about 500m too far.
While Tim and I did the shuttle back to Algonquin Outfitters on Oxtongue Lake, leaving Ian and Howard look after the gear. The water level was high and it looked like we could actually put in on the South side of the highway where a small creek flows out of Park Lake toward the Oxtongue River, but there are several rocks just as you come out of the culvert on the North side and the current was strong enough to cause some trouble. Besides – culverts scare me. Be careful portaging across the highway, though, since the cars really come whipping past. By the time Tim and I got back (almost missed the parking spot again!) Ian and Howard had the canoes down by the high-water put-in just to the North of the road. There is another low-water put-in you can use by following the path due North about 30m.
The first part of the trip is through the end of a long meander and requires patience, but the scenery was beautiful and the day was sunny and warm. We (I, at least) had been worried as we drove along the highway because there was some snow on the ground under the trees and I hadn't brought my wet suit, but the trip stayed comfortable from start to finish. In speaking to the outfitters I had been told that the water level was about what you would normally expect in mid to late spring, so we were looking forward to a good paddle.
After a good hour of nothing more challenging than fast current, river bends and a small swift of two (but lots of beautiful scenery) we finally came to Ragged Falls. As the water level was quite high, most of the “rapids” had been washed out. There were a couple of small surfing waves to play in, but that was all. There is a good portage around the falls with the takeout on river right just above the falls. Unless the water is extremely high this is quite safe due to the large number of guard rocks. The falls is more of a cascade, but quite impressive. The pool at the bottom of the falls is very aerated with strong swirling currents, so we passed that and put in a little below. The portage trail goes on for quite a long way due to the long set of rapids below the falls, but they were pretty straightforward, at least at this level – no more than class 1 to 1.5. More small standing waves than actual rocks. I could see this being a challenge at low water
That part was fun as the rapids continued for quite a distance, but it was followed by more flat water. Luckily the current was strong the whole way, so Tim and I didn't have much trouble in our solo boats. This was the first chance I had had to paddle my new Outrage any distance in flat water, and I was curious to see how it stacked up with Tim's XL and the tandem with Ian and Howard. For the record, it paddled nicely, although concentration was required to keep a fairly straight line. With gear and food weighing it down I could probably trip in it. We shall see....
Eventually we got to High Falls, which is a truly impressive waterfall. The portage here is on river left with several options for taking out, depending on how close you want to get to the brink of the falls. There are several small rapids leading up to the main attraction and we ran most of them. None was very challenging. We stopped just upstream of a ledge that looked doable and fun, but which was one very small recovery pool away from the main drop. While we were scouting we ran into several sight-seers who asked if we were going to run the falls. Ian was going to offer them his paddle if they wanted to try themselves, but thought better of it. The portage is not bad, but leads sharply downhill and was very wet when we did it. The put-in is in a quiet spot well away from the bottom of the falls.
From this point it was a leisurely one-hour paddle to the highway 60 bridge. We had parked Tim's car at the Algonquin Outfitters, but the sun was dropping and we stopped at the little picnic area on the South side of the highway. From there it was only about a 1 – 1.5 km walk to the outfitters. As we walked over the bridge over the Oxtongue Lake narrows we saw that we had made the correct decision; a steady breeze was blowing straight down the lake and would have been in our faces the whole way once we left the river.
This is a wonderful trip. Just like the upper section, it is a series of long meanders of flat water with strong current, interspersed with sections of easy rapids, chutes and falls. It is very scenic and has a remote feel to it even though you are never more than 2 km from the highway. It is definitely a trip I will do again, but you will be disappointed if you are looking for a “real” whitewater experience.